In 2004, the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin and Achieve, Inc., launched the Urban Mathematics Leadership Network to provide a forum where mathematics leaders from some of the countryís largest and most influential school districts could work together on common, deeply felt problems and identify areas for the development of new knowledge. We began UMLN because we recognized that the mathematics leaders of urban school districts are often overwhelmed, overworked, and isolated from others doing similar work in other large-scale settings.
In 2006, the Dana Center and Achieve joined with the Aspen Institute to link UMLNís work to that of the Aspen Urban Superintendents Network. This partnership enables urban district mathematics leaders and their superintendents to share information to support coherent district approaches to strengthening student achievement in mathematics.
With the addition in 2008 of 9 districts from the Superintendents Network, UMLN now includes mathematics leaders from 21 of the largest school districts in the country. Together, these districts serve roughly 50 percent of all students enrolled in urban districts nationwide.
- Support and expand a vibrant and effective network of urban mathematics leaders who work collaboratively to improve student achievement.
- Identify practices worthy of attention within UMLN districts and document them in ways that facilitate dissemination to other districts, educators, and policy leaders.
- Engage district leaders in a rigorous process of identifying tools and strategies to strengthen mathematics instruction, and, when necessary, re-engineer these tools and strategies for use at scale, beginning with tools for implementing effective Algebra I programs.
- Advocate nationally and within UMLN districts for policies and practices that address the mathematics-related needs of urban school districts and that promote improved mathematics teaching and learning for urban students.
- Increase network effectiveness by establishing close connections with companion networks
of district literacy leaders and chief academic officers that are being piloted in a subset of UMLN districts in conjunction with the Aspen Superintendents Network.
UMLN was launched with funding from the Noyce Foundation and further developed with support from the Dana Foundation. Now, with continued support from the Dana Foundation and new funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the UMLN will undertake the following actions:
- Convene UMLN mathematics leaders several times a year to discuss issues of common concern, share practices worthy of attention, support strategic planning in collaboration with colleagues and outside experts, and explore emerging research relevant to improving student achievement in mathematics.
- Identify critical areas of need within UMLN districts and develop strategies and tools to support the work of the mathematics directors and other district leaders. Among concerns that district leaders have identified are
- the needs of struggling algebra students, English language learners, and special education students;
- the need to support student progress through key transition points in the education system (i.e., elementary to middle school, middle to high school, and high school to higher education); and
- the need to strengthen districtsí mathematics leadership capacity.
- Expand advocacy efforts to ensure that the needs of urban districts and the collective voices of their mathematics leaders are considered in local, state, and national policy discussions.
UMLN Design Process
We know from our years of work in mathematics education that often school reform networks bolster the morale and knowledge of their participants but lead to few actual improvements in districts and schools. Likewise, many organizations have built mathematics tools and services that have been purchased by public school districts only to sit on a shelf.
To avoid these and other pitfalls, UMLNís work is carried out using the following participatory design principles.
- Engage mathematics leaders as well as superintendents and chief academic officers in working toward a common understanding of—and systemic response to—district mathematics needs.
- Collaborate with network participants to develop various resources to address the most pressing needs and revise these resources during implementation, based on ongoing district feedback.
- Explore with district leaders how the work in mathematics can inform the work in literacy and vice versa, how lessons learned in one content area can accelerate efforts in another, and how this mutually reinforcing approach helps improve consistency in instruction at the district level.
About the UMLN partners:
The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin is a university research unit that works to improve mathematics and science education in Texas and the nation. Achieve is a nonprofit bipartisan research organization focused on public policy issues related to high school reform and improvement. The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit working in multiple arenas, including education.